Enron Corp. has agreed to pay $1.52 billion to resolve charges that it manipulated the market and gouged prices in California and several other Western states during the 2000-2001 energy crisis, according to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
Under the settlement, a number of California parties will receive $875 million in unsecured claims from Enron’s bankruptcy, plus $47.5 million in cash. Washington and Oregon will each receive $22.5 million from the unsecured bankruptcy claim. In addition, the three states will share a $600 million penalty, which would be a subordinated claim in the bankruptcy proceeding.
The amount that Enron will ultimately pay will not be determined until its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding is completed. The $1.52 billion total may thus be largely a “symbolic victory,” according to The Los Angeles Times, which noted that the company faces more than $63 billion in claims but has only about $12 billion in assets.
The settlement must be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Enron bankruptcy court.
“All things considered, this is a good resolution for the state’s ratepayers,” said Lockyer, in a statement. “After masterminding one of the largest rip-offs in history, Enron collapsed under the weight of its own greed and corruption.”
The money paid to the California parties under the settlement would resolve refund claims made to the federal commission by the states and several utilities. According to the announcement, the money will compensate businesses and individuals for overcharges, reduce the financial burden of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. ratepayers under that utility’s bankruptcy settlement, and reduce the obligation of all utility ratepayers to retire bonds sold by California to finance power purchases at the height of the energy crisis.
The proposed settlement would also end a lawsuit filed by Lockyer against Enron.
Lockyer noted in the press release that he filed the lawsuit after the disclosure of audiotapes and transcripts of Enron trader conversations; those conversations provided disturbing evidence of the firm’s market behavior.
On the tapes, the traders not only brazenly talk about exporting power and gaming the market, they spew profanity-laced boasts about bringing California to its knees, inflicting financial pain on “Grandma Millie,” and about Enron’s influence with President Bush, according to the announcement. The tapes also indicate that former chairman Kenneth Lay and former chief executive officer Jeffrey Skilling received briefings on how the market manipulation enriched Enron, according to Lockyer.
The Enron settlement is the tenth produced by Lockyer’s Energy Task Force, for a combined value of $4.9 billion, according to the announcement; an estimated $3.64 billion of that total represents ratepayer relief.